West Ham United have given Manuel Pellegrini another weapon in attack, snaring Pablo Fornals from Villarreal for a reported $30 million.
That fee is only trumped in West Ham history by last season’s purchase of Felipe Anderson from Lazio. That moved turned out pretty well, to the tune of 10 goals and five assists.
[ MORE: U.S. falls in FIFA rankings ]
Fornals is twice-capped by Spain and 23 years old. He posted five goals and six assists from attacking midfield last season, two years after he moved from Malaga. His first season saw him tie for La Liga’s lead in assists with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi with 12.
West Ham had serious problems in the midfield last year, though most were injury-related with Manuel Lanzini and Jack Wilshere among the men missing plenty of minutes.
And Sky Sports has quotes from director of football Mario Husillos, who knows Fornals well:
“I personally have followed his career since he was a youth player with me at Malaga, and I know we have signed an incredible professional and an incredible character.
“To represent Spain as a full international at the age of 20, and then to have made over 150 appearances in La Liga by the age of 23, is a sign of great quality and character. He joins us a young player still with many years ahead of him, yet with strong experience and already proven at the very highest level.”
If he recaptures his magic from a season ago, the move could well take the Irons attack into the next level.
As fallout begins from Barcelona’s losses in the UEFA Champions League semifinals and Copa del Rey Final, players are being linked with moves away from the Camp Nou.
Andre Gomes, 25, already spent a year away from Barca, playing around 2000 minutes on loan to Everton this season.
[ MORE: USWNT wins final World Cup tune-up ]
The Times says that Everton would like to keep the player, but West Ham has made a $22 million bid for the EURO 2016 winner.
Meanwhile, Metro says that Xherdan Shaqiri could be one-and-done at Liverpool, making room for another Reds’ buy.
Samuel Chukwuese is the name, and the 20-year-old Nigerian plies his trade at Villarreal.
The Yellow Submarine flirted with relegation this season, taxed by the Europa League, and Chukwuese was a bright spot. He scored seven goals and added three assists in 38 matches across all competitions.
The Europa League quarterfinals begin Thursday, with Arsenal home to Napoli in the most tantalizing of four solid match-ups.
[ MORE: UCL summations for each quarterfinalist ]
All of the first legs kick off at 3 p.m. ET
Arsenal v. Napoli
Alexandre Lacazette says the match-up with Serie A’s serial runners-up is a toss-up.
“Napoli has a big history like us. Now they are second in the table after Juventus and making a big difference with other important teams. They are playing very well. They have come from the Champions League but from a strong group with Liverpool. They were very competitive in this group. I know it’s going to be very difficult for us but we have confidence.”
Benfica v. Eintracht Frankfurt
If any of these match-ups are a true toss-up, it’s this one. And it comes right down to table standing, relative to league. Benfica is in a dogfight for first on the Portuguese table, while Eintracht Frankfurt is scrapping to stay in the Bundesliga’s Top Four.
Eintracht and Benfica both have brilliant attacks (and imagine if Benfica hadn’t loaned Raul Jimenez to Wolves). This one could be as good as it gets in the UEL.
Villarreal v. Valencia
Two sides who’ve met each other often and also both had success in Europe square off for a semifinal spot. Villarreal remains in a La Liga relegation place and this game comes three days before a six-pointer against Girona, while Valencia has a placement fight on its hands, too (albeit to re-qualify for the Europa League).
Slavia Prague v. Chelsea
Maurizio Sarri is not going to be sleeping on his Czech opponents, especially just three rounds from a Champions League place.
“They are very dangerous,” Sarri said. “They scored six goals in two matches against Sevilla. We need to be very compact and to defend very well. Especially on crosses they attack the box with five or six players, and they are dangerous on counter-attacks. It won’t be easy for us.”
The game of the season may have just taken place Tuesday in Spain.
Of course, Lionel Messi was at the center of it all, though that wasn’t the plan.
[ MORE: Wolves beat Man Utd ]
Messi came off the bench and needed time to fix things given Barcelona allowed four unanswered goals to blow a two-goal lead at Villarreal. He helped drive his team back to a 4-4 draw which stopped Atletico Madrid from pulling to within seven points of first place in La Liga.
Barca is now unbeaten in 18 league matches since losing 4-3 to Real Betis on Nov. 11.
The final two goals were majestic.
Barcelona led 2-0 after 16 minutes through Philippe Coutinho and Malcom, but the hosts made it 2-1 in short order and scored twice in the first 17 minutes of the second half.
Messi came on for Coutinho just before Villarreal scored their third, then watched as Carlos Bacca cut through the Barca back line to make it 4-2 with 10 minutes to play.
[ MORE: Ream speaks on Fulham’s relegation ]
Alvaro Gonzalez gave Barca some hope with an 86th minute red card for a harsh challenge on Suarez.
Messi then scored a vicious, spinning, 89th minute free kick that — really, you have to see the angle from behind his attempt — whirled just past a defender and defied the flying Sergio Asenjo by smashing the post before zipping around the back of the goal.
But Barca still managed to make it look like it would not be able to pull off a miracle as Messi zipped a long range effort over the goal and then Asenjo made a terrific stop after Messi fed Jordi Alba onto the doorstep.
A lofted pass then led to a corner kick. Enter Suarez.
Who’s got the best route to Baku?
The Europa League draw was held in the shadows of the UEFA Champions League draw on Friday, and it’s certainly not Arsenal.
[ MORE: Sporting KC advances in CCL ]
The Gunners will have to get past Napoli, and vice versa, if they want a chance at upending Chelsea and winning an automatic berth in the Champions League group stage.
Chelsea will meet Slavia Prague, easily the best draw of the bunch.
It’s an all-La Liga tie when Valencia meets Villarreal, while Benfica and Eintracht Frankfurt have a huge chance to entertain.
Should Arsenal defeat Napoli, it would face the Valencia-Villarreal winner.
In some ways, this gives Maurizio Sarri‘s Chelsea the clearest route to Azerbaijan, though Eintracht Frankfurt can trouble any back line and Benfica has plenty of European experience.
Agree? Disagree? Comment below.